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Climate change forces removal of historic Abbot Pass hut in Yoho National Park

Climate change has caused slope instability which has required the removal of the hut
The Abbot Pass Hut will be removed this spring, as climate change has caused structural damage to the hut, causing a safety risk. (Parks Canada photo)

Parks Canada is announcing that it will be removing the historic Abbot Pass Refuge Cabin, which overlooks Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park, in spring 2022, citing the effects that climate change has had on the area and visitor safety.

“Climate change and other environmental forces challenge the integrity of ecosystems and the condition of Parks Canada’s natural and cultural resources,” said Rick Kubian, Field Unit Superintendent Yoho/Kootenay/Lake Louise for Parks Canada.

“We’re taking action on a whole wide range of fronts, including invasive species, actions related to our assets and trying to protect our assets from the effects of climate change. There’s a wide range of areas that we’re working towards trying to mitigate for climate change.”

Slope erosion and glacial recession have caused structural damage to the hut, despite stabilization efforts and interventions made to preserve the structure in its location, stated Parks Canada.

Parks Canada previously conducted geotechnical assessments and monitored the slope beneath the hut following reports of rockfall and erosion dating back to 2016. Slope stabilization was completed in 2018, which included installations of rock anchors for support.

However, the geotechnical assessment which concluded in 2021 found higher levels of erosion and new evidence that the entire hut had been impacted. The hut has been closed since 2021.

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“It’s a sad day for all of us here today, we’re trying to take the best we can from a tough position,” said Kubian.

“I tend to be someone who tries to take the best from a tough situation and I’m hopeful that the piece that others are able to take is looking forward to the ability to commemorate the hut and recognize its significance.”

Removal of the hut is anticipated to be wrapped up by summer, with Kubian saying he does not believe it will impact the summer hiking season.

Kubian said that the intent is to remove all non-natural material from the site while leaving behind natural materials.

He explained they’re also exploring leaving behind a bit of a footprint of the hut, to commemorate it.

Parks Canada will be exploring ways to continue to commemorate the historic site in a meaningful and will be consulting with Indigenous groups, the Alpine Club of Canada, stakeholders and the public throughout the year to help identify options for continuing to commemorate the story of the Abbot Pass Hut and its importance to the history of architecture and mountaineering in Canada.

Built in 1922, with stones from the pass, the hut has served as a base for mountaineers and as a destination for strong hikers since then.

Sitting at 2,926 metres elevation, it is second only to the Neil Colgan Hut on the list of highest permanent structures in Canada. The hut is on the Continental Divide so the provincial and National Park borders run right down the middle of the hut.

The hut is a designated National Historic Site.

Claire Palmer
Editor for the Golden Star
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